28 July 2009

Belgium: where every day is a party

We're home! OK, so we've been back from Belgium for over a week now. Jet lag really did a number on us this time and it's taken me much longer to recover than I'd hoped. I'm not sure I really have recovered, since I'm still going to bed at around 8pm most nights, but at least we're no longer collectively waking at 4am. This is progress, believe me.

Traveling with two kids, even when our destination was "home" (at least for one Flemish-speaking, beer-drinking, chocoholic--wait, maybe make that two), was nothing short of an adventure. We managed the flights with minimal whining and tears, and were greeted in Belgium with a huge family reception. Johan's family always makes a big to-do out of airport welcomes and send-offs and this time was no exception. The next few day
s were full of food-filled fun. Champagne and appetizers at Bomma's (Grandma's) house, a birthday brunch followed by a summer barbecue the next day, followed by more visits, get-togethers, and outings, all choc-full with food and booze. On the third or fourth day of our trip, Jules woke up and asked, "where is the party today?" For him (and for us), every day in Belgium was a party, with much to celebrate--being "home," introducing baby brother Kasper to family and friends, re-connecting with so many people over good food and drink and, lets not forget, toys.

An adventure it was, of both the gastronomic and the disciplinary variety, and often at the same time. Jules is, and has always been, the kind of kid who simply cannot eat when there are too many new or distracting things to occupy his attention. The entire time we were in Belgium, we were showered with culinary delights, most of which Jules refused. Kid-friendly spaghetti made it on the menu more than a few times. It was ignored in favor of the kid-friendly toys and videos and new friends that Jules preferred to "discover." At barbecues (American or Belgian-style, didn't matter), Jules ate bread. And chips. And ice cream. And the occasional carrot stick.

We were, quite naturally, horrified, especially when all the other kids sat down for a meal, ate politely, and often in large quantities, and never seemed to make a fuss. But we knew our kid, and we knew he'd go back to his normal (not ideal, mind you, but it works for him)
ways of eating once we were home, so we tried to be as lax as we could about it.

So while we gorged (and I really do mean gorged) ourselves on cheeses, pastries, meat, meat, meat, fries and croquettes, salads and seafood and more, Jules lived off of croque monsieurs (toasted ham and cheese sandwiches), fruit salad (and they make a mean one here), soft rolls (what, in Flemish, are quite confusingly called a "sandwich"), the occasional croissant, handfuls of chips, some fresh gray shrimp (a uniquely Belgian treat--maybe this kid is Belgian after all), and all the ice cream he could get his hands on. Ice cream was plentiful in Belgium, especially during the week we spent on the Belgian coast. Out of the 17 days we were there, I'm quite certain that 15 of those included ice cream in one form or another.

He would go for nearly an entire day subsisting on little more than a crust-less piece of bread and a bite of cheese, a little water and whatever cookies might find their way to him. Then, all of a sudden, hunger would overtake him. One night he ate SIX Nutella sandwiches, a 3 1/2 year olds' dream. Everyone was just so happy to see him eat something that they kept making them for him when he asked for another. Another night it was a more sensible meal of pasta and peas.

While Jules's diet (and don't even get me started on his table manners) was atrocious, for me it was also part of the adventure of (re)introducing him (and us) to his Belgian roots, and to long distance travel in general. And it was about us getting to know our own kid as a traveler, seeing how he handles change (in this case, in language, food, distance and time and a dizzying blur of new faces all at once--quite a whirlspin for a little guy).

The following posts (I hope) will give you more of an idea of what we ate (and what it looked like), but for now, this is just a first taste. It's good to be home, but that doesn't mean we all don't miss Belgium already.

01 July 2009

american cookies

ok, maybe one post. In honor of the 4th of July, and my not being state-side to celebrate it, I give you my hands-down favorite recipe for what the Belgians call "American Cookies." I looooove these because they are a) chewy, not cake-y, not crunchy, b) salty (baked goods need salt, more than most people add), and c) nearly impossible to botch, even when your assistant-chef smooshes and mooshes and mooches "little tastes" more than is probably prudent.

Just one little taste
apron schmapron

Note: this recipe makes a ton of cookies, so I usually end up freezing half the dough in little balls and baking them for a bit longer than the recipe below at a lower oven temp (325 degrees).

American Cookies (adapted from this recipe in Gourmet)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (16 ounces)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or wax paper.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, to butter mixture, beating with mixer until creamy, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture until just blended, then stir in chips.

If you have the time, chill in the fridge for an hour, or until the dough has firmed up a bit. This will ensure the cookies don't spread to fast when baking. When the dough is ready, scoop a heaping tablespoon of batter for each cookie, arranging mounds 3 inches apart, on 2 baking sheets. Flatten mounds into 3-inch rounds using moistened palm of your hand. Form remaining cookies on additional sheets of parchment.

Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool and continue making cookies in same manner using cooled baking sheets.

a few of my favorite (belgian) things

we are on a plane to Belgium tomorrow. no posts for a while, but I'll try to take some good food pictures on the road! In the meantime, here's a list of things I'm looking forward to eating while in Belgium:

pistolekes met kaas (little cheese rolls with soft gouda)
bitterballen (deep fried balls of gravy and meat, served with mustard)
vol au vent (puff pastry filled with creamy chicken and mushroom)
kroketten (fried potato goodness, served with mayo)
hazerug (jack rabbit's back, usually a winter food)
grijze garnalen (little gray shrimp, harvested by horse)
pralinekes (chocoooooolate)
bolleke Koninck (just good beer)
broodje smos (a "messy sandwich" -- french roll filled with veggies, hardboiled egg, and mayo)
frietjes met andalous (fries that are NOT french with a spicy pink sauce)

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